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Opiates are a powerful class of drugs that make up a wide range of substances including heroin, opium, and many prescription painkillers. The intense effects of opiate based drugs on the intrinsic reward mechanisms of the brain often lead to difficult to treat cases of addiction which generally require professional care.
Studies estimate that the worst of the opiates, heroin, causes addiction in as many as 25% of first time users. Addiction to any opiate can lead to financial ruin, family problems, disease, overdose and the risk of death.
How Opiates Hijack the Brain
During normal brain function, serotonin and other chemical response mechanisms are in place to provide a balanced system of reward. When an individual does something “good” or “rewarding” such as laugh or have fun, endorphins are released throughout the body and the individual feels “happy” or “good.”
Unfortunately, the use of heroin and other opiates cause these same endorphins to be released at times when they otherwise should not be released and can result in failure for the “good” chemicals of the brain the be released when they should be. The result is a hijacked reward system in the brain that now only responds to the use of drugs such as heroin, morphine, or other prescription opiate based painkillers.
In addition to this high jacking of the balance of brain related chemicals, use of these drugs also leads to symptoms of withdrawal when a user tries to quit on their own. The symptoms of withdrawal can include a wide range of potentially uncomfortable and even dangerous effects including:
- Cravings that persist no matter what you think, say or do
- Bone or joint pain
Repeat Opiate Use Leads to Tolerance & Heightens Overdose Risk
Opiates such as prescription painkillers are potentially dangerous for users because they can quickly lead to tolerance which increases the risk of overdose. Even people who are legitimately prescribed an opiate pain medication for the treatment of pain following an injury or illness often find themselves thrown into the helms of an opiate addiction.
It all starts with taking a few pills a day. As time goes on, the effect that one or two pills used to have is no longer obtained with such a low dose. Now you need 3 or 4 or more pills to produce the same or similar effect—this is opiate tolerance and it’s a stepping stone toward opiate addiction.
As time goes on, the tolerance will grow and grow. And the more of a drug that is taken, the greater the risk becomes for overdose. Unfortunately, tolerance and overdose go hand in hand, and neither magically goes away with treatment. In fact, many overdoses occur as a result of relapse following treatment; this occurs because people get help, they quit using opiates, and they become comfortable without opiates.
Unfortunately, when relapse occurs, the individual thinks he or she can still take the same dose of a drug that they previously had developed a tolerance to—overdose occurs because the body is no longer able to withstand such a high dose of drugs. Overdose also occurs simply from taking too much of a drug in general whether or not there has been recent time in recovery.
Recognizing Opiate Addiction
Do you suspect that someone you love is addicted to opiates such as heroin or prescription painkillers? If you suspect addiction, call our helpline toll-free at 800-836-4134 to speak with a treatment specialist that can assist you in finding and choosing a recovery program. If you’re not sure how to recognize opiate addiction, consider the following signs:
- Heavy limbs that seem to drag or hang
- Pinpoint pupils or bloodshot eyes
- Changes in behavior such as acting excited at odd times, having increases in energy or showing signs of altered mood
- Excessive talking or moving around, especially itching
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in friends or activities that are considered fun
- Lack of responsibility, failure to take care of things at work, home or school
- Telling lies about whereabouts, money, or amount of medication use
- Doctor shopping to obtain medications
- Taking medication more frequently than prescribed
- Taking medication that is not prescribed
If you recognize any of these signs of addiction in yourself or in someone you care about, call our helpline at 800-836-4134 for assistance in finding and choosing proper treatment for recovery.
Treatment for Opiate Addiction
Treating opiate addiction often requires medication and counseling or therapy. Maintenance medications such as Suboxone, Methadone or other drugs are sometimes provided to help ease symptoms of withdrawal and to reduce cravings. No single type of treatment will work for everyone.
For help finding a treatment program that will work for you, call 800-836-4134 to speak with one of our caring specialists. Our counselors are ready to assist you in finding the right level of care for your needs. From detox, to residential treatment, outpatient care and sober living, we’re here to help you get well.
The most common types of treatment for opiate addiction include:
- Inpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Family counseling
- Medication management or maintenance
- CBT and other forms of therapy
For optimal recovery, most patients require a treatment approach that includes a rounded approach to recovery complete with counseling, support, medical care, education and guidance.
Detox will be the first step in your recovery from opiate addiction. During detox you will stabilize physically so that you no longer feel so heavily dependent on the drugs. This process may include medical intervention to help ease pain or other symptoms of withdrawal. Most people can complete opiate detox in a matter of 7-14 days and are then ready for inpatient counseling and therapy.
The amount of time spent in inpatient treatment and the followup time in outpatient treatment can range from 30-90 days or more. It is up to you to work with your treatment provider in determining an appropriate length of time for your recovery. For more information or for help finding an opiate addiction treatment program, call our helpline at 800-836-4134.